|Image: Phil Torres|
It's about an inch across, which is no great size in the Peruvian floodplains of the Tambopata river. Nevertheless, you eye it with curiosity, and it seems to call out to you.
You take a step toward the macabre spectacle. As you do so, a 6 foot long blood-sucking leech lunges at you, anti-coagulants dribbling from its gaping excuse for a mouth.
A normal man would have promptly died, cried or attempted to run away, utilitarian underpants laden with the weight of his bowel content.
But you're no normal man. You're Phil Torres, biologist. So you cut it in half with your massive knife.
Your powerful calves flex sensuously and reassuringly as you take another step. Suddenly, a sabre-toothed jaguar leaps from the undergrowth, hungry eyes and hungrier teeth glinting in the hot light. You barely know what you did next. Probably somersaults, barrel-rolls and other impressive feats. It was all muscle memory. And you have big muscles. So they have a lot of memory.
Suffice to say, you're alive and the jaguar is not. Also you don't know where its head went. A burning sensation reveals that you didn't get by unscathed. Your flimsy shirt is torn through, revealing blood dripping down the contours of your sculpted chest. You consider treating your wounds, but decide it looks quite sexy.
You take several more steps through the steamy floodplains, each time despatching a giant flesh-eating plant, giant mound of flesh-eating goo or beautiful butterfly that you would've added to your collection were it not so giant and flesh-eating.
Soon enough, the attacks cease. "Shame", you quip out loud, "I was just starting to have fun". You know it's not funny exactly, but the combination of your charm, blood-soaked knife and the last few minutes of unbridled slaughter will make people laugh anyway.
|Images: Jeff Cremer and Phil Torres|
You begin to approach the dead spider. Did it move? You swear you just saw it move. A strange, unaccountable sense of mounting horror clings to your heart as you get closer, until... you break.
Your life flashes before your eyes. But not your life thus far - your life yet to come, dominated by wrinkles, grey hair, tubbiness and people talking about all the great stuff you used to do. And all the while your ears are filled with the sound of a woman screaming in terror for her very life, as if she saw a mouse or something.
At first you think a damsel must have seen you standing there with your huge knife and massive net and completely misunderstood the situation. But then you realise... it was you.
A normal man would run away, cry and spend loads of money on therapy. But you're not a normal man. You're Phil Torres, biologist. So you gird your loins with some nearby foliage and take a closer look.
Feelings of terror surge through you and you fight to suppress them. It's a constant battle, not like mercy, guilt and compassion which you got rid of almost completely years ago and only threaten a return when you have a really bad hangover.
With teeth gritted, you examine the spider corpse. With some surprise, you realise that it's not a spider at all, it's just a collection of debris, dead leaves and dead insects. A ruse. And then you see its creator. A tiny spider, just 0.5 cm (0.2 in) long and truly dwarfed by her grim creation.
"Dust to dust", you whisper profoundly, as you turn around to stab a bear in the face and leave.